Who is “black” in medical research?BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7059.760 (Published 21 September 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:760
- Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye
The United Kingdom Department of Health requires all healthcare institutions to specify the ethnic group to which inpatients belong. The minimum standard for specifying ethnic groups is the codes used by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for the 1991 census. The confidence with which the term “black” is used in the literature might lead you to think that there is universal agreement about who is black in our world. But what are the measures of blackness?
There is firstly the political measure. The Europeans who took Africans into slavery during a 200 year period beginning in the 17th century found it expedient to attribute all sorts of negative characteristics to them to justify enslaving their fellow human beings. The Europeans saw themselves as superior, good, and deserving everything (“white”), and the Africans as inferior, bad, and deserving nothing (“black”).
Whiteness and blackness were therefore invented, as G Lipsitz said, “as relevant categories in American life largely because of realities created by slavery and segregation. A fictive identity of ‘whiteness’ appeared in law as an abstraction, and it became actualised in everyday life in many ways…. [We …